Why is it so difficult for caregivers to ask for help? Susanne White has some theories from her own experience. She also explains why it's essential that caregivers fight this natural reluctance and reach out for support.
One suggestion most frequently given to caregivers is "ask for help." It's recommended so often that it should be our second nature by now. Because it's excellent advice!
Yet, few of us caregivers ask for the help we desperately need.
I was always resistant to asking for help and suffered because of it. Because asking for help is extremely hard for most caregivers. Actually, "hard" is an understatement. Caregivers can find asking for help uncomfortable, demeaning, inappropriate, distressing, awkward, and self-defeating!
So why is this such a difficult thing for caregivers to do? And what's behind this isolation and self-reliance even when we know it’s harmful?
Why did I dread picking up the phone or letting my family and friends know I needed assistance?
It was only when I took a hard look at the situation that I realised I was my own worst enemy. Over time, I finally felt better about being part of the orchestra than a one-person band.
Let's look at what motivates caregivers to "go it alone" instead of reaching out for support. After all, understanding is the jumping-off point for making a difference. By examining the psychological obstacles, we can then encourage more caregivers to ask for relief and support.
Here are some silly and dangerous things we tell ourselves and how we can reframe our thinking.
Caregiving Myth 1: “I can do this by myself”
This is the first line of defence in not asking for help. When we commit to becoming caregivers, we also pressure ourselves to become invincible. After all, we're now responsible for someone's well-being and, sometimes, their lives. There's no room to stumble or falter.
Here's the reality: we can never be perfect. We put unnecessary pressure on ourselves by trying to be so. No one asked us to do this alone. We didn't sign a contract. Ploughing through caregiving alone is a choice, not a solution.
When we refuse to be open to help, we are making ourselves more vulnerable to caregiver burnout. Likewise, by stubbornly refusing support, we invite ourselves to become victims. Our inner monologue says, "Yes, I'm exhausted and anxious, but only because I do this and this..."
This attitude has no upside. And in the long run, it may hurt the very people we're trying to protect.
When we are open to people offering their time, energy, or a sympathetic ear, we invest in ourselves and the well-being of those we care for. We also recharge, gain a new perspective, and even feel a little less crazy! Support brings relief.
Caregiving Myth 2: “My way is the only way”
Once we get into a caregiving rhythm, it becomes a source of comfort and consistency. Since we strive to find the best ways to care for those we love, we develop strategies and rely heavily on them. If something works, we hold on to it for dear life.
However, things change, and there are always different ways of approaching anything. Allowing others to pitch in shows how many different ways can actually work. We may find we’re the ones who’ve been doing it "wrong" for years!
That said, there is no right or wrong way to be a caregiver, and we all have unique and miraculous ways to manage. Thinking we have all the answers is silly, frankly. It robs us of finding even better ways of doing things that’ll ease our journey.
Caregiving Myth 3: “If I’m not in control, it will go to pieces”
This is one of the most challenging concepts to debunk because it stems from fear and worry. It’s genuinely hard to entrust the well-being of those we love and care for to someone else. We worry something terrible will happen if we aren't there to control everything.
In truth, we can never really control anything and can't prevent life from happening. If something is meant to be, it could happen no matter who is in charge or on duty. While someone may not be as "invested" as we are, it doesn't mean they're irresponsible. Sometimes, taking a step back from someone allows you to provide them with better care!
We must start trusting our friends to be loving, kind, and well-intended. Only then we'll be able to accept their help and see what a blessing it is.
Caregiving Myth 4: “I’ll look bad if I have to ask for help”
Caregiving is hard. There is not one person among us who wouldn't find full-time caregiving challenging. Still, too many of us judge ourselves mercilessly and worry far too much about the opinions of others.
Thinking you’re not good enough because you ask for and accept help is hogwash! No one expects anyone to care for others alone. Caregiving takes a village. Anyone looking in from the outside can see how overwhelming the job is. They're not judging us. They're awed by the enormity of our circumstances and ability to keep going.
We need to be as kind and gentle to ourselves as we are with those we care for when we struggle. We always rush to get the best help available for those we love, and we must treat ourselves with the same respect. We, too, need the best care we can get.
Self-awareness is the key to a good caregiving experience and fulfilling life. Reflecting on why we think we don't deserve help may help us break the chains holding us back.
With this knowledge, we can manage our understandable fear and worries. We can share what's on our minds, put things in perspective, and surround ourselves with people we trust. By seeking the help we need and deserve, we can be healthier, happier, and more balanced caregivers.
NPS-IE-NP-00459 August 2022